Local government responses to urban river pollution in late medieval England

Water History 2.1 (2010), 35-52.
This article examines the local responses to medieval urban river pollution in three leading English towns—Coventry, Norwich, and York—during the late fourteenth through sixteenth centuries. The case studies reveal the extent to which local governments became involved in river upkeep. Interventions by the town governments were twofold: (1) preventative actions in the form of regulations and regulatory enforcement and (2) responsive actions to physically remove materials that had already accumulated in the rivers. Previous histories have not treated pollution regulations and regular river upkeep activities such as scouring and dredging as part of the same toolbox for responding to urban river pollution, yet these two seemingly separate activities were indeed connected during the medieval period. Both legislative action and scouring projects were responses to filth and waste accumulation in urban waterways. By overlooking the connection between pollution legislation and river cleansing, historians have underappreciated the extent of involvement by local town governments in controlling and responding to pollution in the riverine landscape.
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